Continuing commentary on the decline of public safety in Seattle is my primary purpose at this time, but I a bit of inspirational illustration of my time at SPD is important, too. My previous story Shootouts in the Ghetto told of the gathering of young cops and central area kids in the gym up at 17th and Fir. But it wasn’t bullets flying…it was basketballs.
What I am recounting here illustrates another remarkable moment, adding to scores of others, to give you a sense of the treasure of human experience I gathered over those many years.
A few short years into the “mission” (my police service), we faced the first rioting over civil rights and anti-war issues. That a “country kid” from Eastern Washington, then east Renton, was caught in disbelief at these developments is an understatement. I came to the cop car life with an arcane notion that the good folks would love us and the crooks would “take it on the lam”! One night, as we stood in a hailstorm of rocks and bottles and a bullet or two, I was finally shorn of that innocence. For good!
The important message here is the rich and unexpected blessing that followed. As the rioting up at Garfield High nearby slowly dissipated near midnight, I took a sentinel position at 23rd and Spruce Street. That watchfulness has always been an instinct with me.
There were passersby, good folks, mostly Black, making their way around the scene down the street. I greeted them with as much reassurance as I could. Several stopped to talk with me. I took from that the sense that decent conversation was always valuable in the face of such strife. There is far less that divides us, even when racial tension seems like a runaway train, than most people might believe.
Now to my meeting with Jesus.
Most folks had passed by as midnight arrived, but I felt a presence behind me. I was about to turn when I felt a hand softly on my shoulder. I glanced that way to see an elderly black man in a preacher's frock.
I was a little startled at first but then remembered that there was an old church on the corner. It may have been the calming of that gentle touch, but I was momentarily speechless. Before I could react the old man spoke. "Son, be patient with these children. They are angry tonight but they will need you tomorrow." I am seldom speechless; most people think I talk too much. But it was a moment before I collected my wits. Then I turned to thank the old man, BUT HE WAS GONE!
I walked around that old church, found not a door or window ajar, no fresh footprints on the lawn or steps. Not a sign of the old man. But I continued to ponder the nature of the greater sign here: how had this happened…and why?
Just a few nights later, when I and my fellow cops gathered for a “post-riot debriefing” (a few beers and other spirits), I spontaneously uttered the words…LET ME TELL ABOUT WHEN I MET JESUS…AND HE WAS BLACK. This crew included several Black cops as well. We were well integrated by then.
I am the perpetual “class-clown” sort…and the crew literally burst out in laughter. I enjoy my own work as well. I was laughing, too. But later it began to settle in, as it has to this day. I believe those moments were out of the ordinary. Both that hand on my shoulder and that surprising utterance at the “debriefing” the next night.
Something happened there that I can still only ponder. As much as I will say for certain is that it fits into the many blessings I enjoyed by the grace of many old Black folks I was to meet and know in my days as a cop in the central district!
Soon I will tell you of Big Momma's Coffee, Sarg's Barbecue and others.